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Beethoven Street School

Queen's Park soon became a settled community and, in 1881, Beethoven Street School was opened to serve it. There were Infants on the ground floor, girls on the first and boys at the top, although it was soon run as a mixed school under a remarkable head teacher. The school had good laboratories, built up a regular attendance of 700 and developed a flourishing orchestra.

One early Beethoven Street pupil was the future Sir Harold Bellman, who became Chairman of the Abbey National Building Society, and a governor of London School of Economics and several Paddington schools. In his autobiography called 'A Cornish Cockney',' he wrote:-

'This establishment was the natural forerunner of the modern County Secondary School. It presumed to cater for the brighter young people and not a few children of promise travelled from distant areas to attend its classes. I appear to have been admitted through favouritism.

'John William Tate, the first headmaster, was held in awe by the whole school. He was indeed, in our eyes, every inch the headmaster. With his whitish hair and white imperial, sky-blue eyes, florid complexion, white vest decorated with a massive gold Albert, and tie held in position with a gold ring, he dominated the community. In winter he sported a rich box-cloth overcoat, gathered in round a high waist, then flowing on like a lady's dress to within a few inches of the ground.'

The parents were eager to send their children to such a school and, in 1885, the school made history. In the late nineteenth century, British industry had a problem very similar to its problems today. Having long been regarded as both the cradle and the engine of the industrial revolution, it found itself being surpassed by foreign competitors. The Paris Exhibition of 1878, where eight million people saw British goods outclassed by those of France and Germany, came as a particular shock, especially as France had been overrun by the Germans and in turmoil over the Paris Commune, only seven years before. As today, attention focused on the education system. It was here the fault was seen to be. One Manchester industrialist, Sir William Mather, expressed the general view in a speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science:-

"--- the present methods of teaching in our public elementary schools do not satisfy the wants of the nation, or do justice to the children who are compelled to attend---"

In May 1884, the royal Commission on Technical Instruction, headed by Sir Bernard Samuelson, recommended that manual instruction - now called craft, design and technology (CDT) - be introduced into the country's elementary schools.

What followed, one year later, was the Beethoven Street experiment. Encouraged by the Samuelson report, the London School Board was soon considering a scheme ‘for teaching the use of carpenter's tools to a class of boys at Beethoven Street School, Queen's Park Estate.’

There would be two classes, consisting of about twenty-five to thirty boys, chiefly from Standard VII. The instruction would be given by the school-keeper, who was a carpenter, on two afternoons a week, each class consisting of twelve or fifteen, the instruction being under the superintendence of the headmaster. The instruction would be carried out in a shed to be built in the corner of the playground."

 

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